The more I got to know Valentine, the less I felt sure about him. I remember once we were on the tube because we couldn't find a cab. Although he could be a snob at times and would never normally take public transport, when he did, he looked around him with great interest. This particular night, on the platform at Farringdon, I saw him smile as he watched a couple of lovers - a pretty, black haired girl and her combat-trousered, small spectacled beau - necking on their way home. We got on the train and found ourselves in a carriage with them and with three Geordies in town for a soccer match. The Geordies were terribly pissed. Now I've been terribly pissed on the tube myself many times but whereas I tend to become withdrawn and maudlin, they were loud, obnoxious and confrontational. As usual, when there is any sign of trouble, the other passengers buried themselves in their magazines, their books, the advertisements above the windows - even in the pattern of the fabric on their seats –anywhere or anything not to catch the eye or attention. I took a particular interest in the sleeve of my jacket although Valentine carried on looking at the couple and smiling slightly as if lost in reflection. They, meanwhile remained absorbed in themselves - oblivious to the growing tension around them. Sneaking a glance up I noticed one of the Geordies poke the others and gesture towards the lovers. He staggered over, stood in front of them and bellowed:
'Is this train going to Bephards Shush?'
The carriage fell silent. The couple tried to ignore him
'Oi pet, I said: ‘Is this train going to Bepards shush?’’
The girl looked up, shook her head and looked down again.
'Can you give me directions then?'
She looked up again and nodded. He belched and grinned at the others who tittered.
'What’s the fastest way down your knickers pet?'
I winced. The girl looked down. Her boyfriend blushed. The carriage froze. The Geordies fell about laughing. Then, number one stretched out his hand, grabbed the girl's and pulled it towards his crotch. Her boyfriend stood up and pushed him away. Lout Number One grinned at him and then very deliberately, almost carefully, hit him very hard in the face. The boyfriend crumpled. The girl stood up, reached toward him and turned unbelievingly to the other passengers - all of whom were desperately trying to pretend nothing was happening.
I was terrified and was trying to persuade myself to do something but my legs felt completely leaden. I just could not seem to move apart from to look at Valentine. Unbelievably, he was still smiling slightly as if still lost in his own thoughts. But then, suddenly, as if coming to, he leant up off the rail and walked the few paces down the carriage past the boy slumped in his seat and the girlfriend bending over him. The Geordies were looking on expectantly, still grinning.
'That really wasn't very nice old chap' he remonstrated gently
'I really think you should apologise you know'
Lout Number One looked him up and down with disbelief. The others guffawed and pressed up behind.
'What did you say cunt?'
Valentine gave the boy his handkerchief
'I said: “I really think you should apologise old sport!”'
With the other passengers I felt a miasma of fear and tension envelope the train. It felt to us all as if something terrible was about to happen. Whether through shame or sheer desperation to get it all over with, I managed to force myself, shaking, to get up and stand behind Valentine.
He turned to me.
'Don't you think so too old boy?'
I shook my head but he just smiled beatifically again until suddenly, the lout grabbed hold of the lapels of his beautiful suit, pulled him forward and head butted him very hard. There was a sickening crunch. I looked away. Everything stopped - even the train. There was complete silence in the carriage. I looked up. But Valentine was standing exactly where he was - and was still smiling. The head-butt didn't seem to have had any effect on him whatsoever - apart from a bit of gob or snot or blood that had landed on the lapel of his jacket. He looked down, noticed this and suddenly stopped smiling. He looked up towards his assailant upon whose face a scarlet mess had blossomed.
'Oh, now that really isn't on old sport '
He reached out and stroked the lout's cheek. The tension in the carriage thickened further at this most surreal of moves. The train juddered into life again although I could see an elderly man edging toward the emergency lever. Valentine reached further around the back of the lout's head and pulled it towards his own face. We heard him say, very gently:
'If ...you …..don't .... apologise,........ I'll rip ..…. your ...heart ....out'
I could see him as he said it. He was smiling again but when I looked at his eyes, my stomach churned. They had a look that was completely alien. I had a dizzying impression of something distant, cruel, cold and terrible.
There was a noise from the lout. I turned toward him. His face was contorted like some weird, giant baby begging for something. Suddenly there was a very bad smell. It seemed he had shit himself.
Valentine let him go and stepped delicately aside as he fell away and slumped to the floor, retching and sobbing. The old man pulled the lever, the train came into Kings Cross, the doors opened and the passengers pushed at each other in a rush to get off. The Geordies remained silent and still at the end of the carriage staring and fearful. The girl helped her boyfriend up. He was sobbing too.
'Thanks' she said but she didn't look at Valentine
'You're more than welcome my dear!' he said as he looked down at the lout and poked him with the pointed toe of his boot.
' Let me....Don't....Sorry. Alright, I'm fuckin’ sorry.......I didn't mean nothing, I...'
He wouldn't look up off the floor. The other Geordies remained backed away. Valentine winked at the girl.
'Tragic isn't it?'
She looked back at him nervously
'What did you....?'
'Oh you know, just a bit of the old assertiveness training!'
Her boyfriend pulled her hand and they jumped from the train as a guard got on.
'This chap's been being rude to some of your passengers old sport' said Valentine - ' and he seems to have got himself in a bit of a mess too!'
He turned to me:
'Come on pilgrim' he put his arm around my shoulder
'I think we'll get a cab now'
Posted by clerkenwell kid at 5:26 pm